My first car was a 1964 green Volkswagen Beetle. I paid $750 for it which was a lot because, at the time, I was making $85 a week as a secretary. For whatever reason, the transmission failed the same day I bought it after I’d decided that, despite my father’s advice, it wasn’t worth it to have the car checked out by a mechanic first. I can’t remember what it cost to fix the transmission, it being such a nightmarish episode. All I can remember is driving all the way from Grand Ledge back to East Lansing in 2nd gear like a hearse waiting for the procession to catch up.
A VW being what it was at the time, I had to back my sweet little green bug up to my folks’ garage during the winter and put a light bulb on a long cord next to the engine so it would start in the morning. Remember the trunk was in front in a VW and the engine in back. This meant that if a person ran into something, say a tree or another car, the trunk (also known as the hood of the car) would crumple. I learned this by running into another car on a country road late one afternoon. The car had its left turn signal on, but then turned right, which was unfortunate because I was busy passing on the right, which was illegal in Michigan, as the police later told me.
My new boyfriend saw the damage to the hood and fetched his rubber mallet to pound out the dent. My father watched from the living room window, muttering, “he’ll never get that dent out.” He made no move to help or to suggest alternatives, since, as you remember, I’d already failed to take his car advice. He would, as he infrequently but pointedly said, let me stew in my own juices.
Much of the dent got pounded out but a scar remained and so my beloved car, my first purchase as an adult, went from pristine (save its transmission) to dinged up. It was still unbelievably cute and cozy inside and I remember driving country roads singing to songs on the radio – Judy Collins and Otis Redding and the Beatles – smoking Kools lit with the tiny lighter in the dash. I loved the wee ashtray. And I loved the stick shift. The clutch. Shifting. Downshifting. All of it.
When I married the boyfriend who pounded out the hood of my car, he, maybe we, decided that it would make financial sense to sell our two VW Beetles and buy a VW station wagon. He already had a Harley Sportster, so we were vehicle heavy in those early married days, so this shedding of my green VW made sense. Later when our baby was born, we would ride around town at night in our station wagon so she would stop crying and go to sleep. We would chat quietly, very quietly, for obvious reasons and there was no singing.
My VW was as green as this car is red.